Category Archives: Inspirational
Apparently I repeated myself. I noticed last night that I’ve written before along the same lines as I did yesterday. Back in August 2012 I wrote about honoring those people (family and saints) with places on the walls of our homes:
That is what we do with the saints. We honor them as family with a place on our “wall.” For the most part the stories are not sugarcoated and lessons are learned from their struggles. Their triumphs are chronicled, too, and especially from those martyred we gain strength in lessons of perseverance and in heavenly reward. It is a reminder that there is more to life than what we see before our eyes.
Maybe that’s where so many struggle today. The walls on their homes are empty. The digital age affords us the ability to take more pictures than ever, but our walls are now on Facebook. The images are not developed and hung in a prominent or more permanent place. It is also my opinion that we have substituted family photos for those of celebrity, whether from the entertainment world or the political. We choose to know every detail of the shallowest of humanity who offer nothing more than an often-repeated example of how not to live our lives.
I guess that after over 500 posts on this blog I need to make sure I haven’t covered a subject before I post.
Above is a photo of the Red Sox plaque on my wall that I mentioned yesterday. If I have this hanging in a prominent place, why not do the same for those whom I really consider role models? I’d start with the following eight persons. If you look closely, aside from their being Catholic, you’ll notice other traits that run as common threads between members of this family.
Eight Family Portraits
Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
Who he was: A rich, partying playboy, Francis served a year in a dungeon as a prisoner of war. When finally released he went back to his partying lifestyle and retained his dreams of glory. Before leaving as a knight to join the Fourth Crusade and a chance to achieve his dream, he had a dream in which God told him his designs on glory were wrong and that he was to return home, which he did. In 1219 Francis decided to go to Syria to convert the Moslems while the Fifth Crusade was being fought. In the middle of a battle, Francis decided to do the simplest thing and go straight to the sultan to make peace. When he and his companion were captured, the real miracle was that they weren’t killed. Instead Francis was taken to the sultan who was charmed by Francis and his preaching. Francis’s visit to Egypt and attempted rapprochement with the Muslim world had far-reaching consequences, long past his own death, since after the fall of the Crusader Kingdom it would be the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who would be allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and be recognized as “Custodians of the Holy Land” on behalf of the Catholic Church.
A story: One day while riding through the countryside, Francis, the man who loved beauty, who was so picky about food, who hated deformity, came face to face with a leper. Repelled by the appearance and the smell of the leper, Francis nevertheless jumped down from his horse and kissed the hand of the leper. When his kiss of peace was returned, Francis was filled with joy. As he rode off, he turned around for a last wave, and saw that the leper had disappeared. He always looked upon it as a test from God…that he had passed. (source)
A lesson learned: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance.
Personal story: I took Francis as my confirmation name when I entered the Church twenty Easters ago.
Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)
Who he was: Born in Poland Kolbe became a Franciscan friar, joining the order founded by Francis of Assisi. Before being ordained as a priest he founded the Immaculata Movement which is devoted to Mary. He was a pioneer in radio and publishing, and at one time his movement’s magazine “The Knight of the Immaculata” had the largest circulation of any periodical in Europe. He traveled to Japan and India before returning to Poland a few years prior to the Nazi invasion of 1939. He was arrested and imprisoned at Auschwitz where he exchanged his life for another condemned man and was put to death in 1941.
A story: Kolbe described the following childhood vision he had of the Virgin Mary: That night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me, a Child of Faith. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both. (source)
A lesson learned: Kolbe’s death was not a sudden, last-minute act of heroism. His whole life had been a preparation. His holiness was a limitless, passionate desire to convert the whole world to God. And his beloved Immaculata was his inspiration.
Personal story: I joined the Knights of the Immaculata in 2001 and since then have worn the Miraculous Medal, much used and distributed by Kolbe, around my neck.
Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917)
Who she was: One of thirteen children, at the age of eighteen she wanted to become a nun but was hindered by poor health. She helped her parents until their death and then worked on a farm with her siblings. She taught at a girls’ school for six years and founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to care for poor children in schools and hospitals, and took her vows as a nun in 1877. She came to America with six nuns in 1889 to work among the Italian immigrants. She soon founded schools, hospitals and orphanages in the U.S. before her death in Chicago.
A story: In America she found disappointment and difficulties with every step. When she arrived in New York City, the house intended to be her first orphanage in the United States was not available. The archbishop advised her to return to Italy. But Frances, truly a valiant woman, departed from the archbishop’s residence all the more determined to establish that orphanage. And she did. In 35 years Frances Xavier Cabrini founded 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick. Seeing great need among Italian immigrants who were losing their faith, she organized schools and adult education classes. (source)
A lesson learned: The compassion and dedication of Mother Cabrini is still seen in hundreds of thousands of her fellow citizens, not yet canonized, who care for the sick in hospitals, nursing homes and state institutions. We complain of increased medical costs in an affluent society, but the daily news shows us millions who have little or no medical care, and who are calling for new Mother Cabrinis to become citizen-servants of their land.
Personal story: I first heard of Frances Cabrini around ten years ago during a story told by my priest upon the death of his mother. He said “My mom was a devoted woman of great faith. One of my childhood memories is of mom driving around the stores in downtown Lincoln seeking that elusive parking space. She would say ‘Mother Cabrini, don’t be a meanie. Find me a parking space.’ And each time she would find one!”
John Vianney (1786-1859)
Who he was: The fourth of six children, Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney was ordained a priest in 1815 and made a parish priest of Ars, a small remote French hamlet of 230 people, in 1818. It was there that his reputation as a confessor and spiritual advisor grew until he was known throughout the Christian world. A mystic who had great patience, he was loved by the crowds but retained his childlike simplicity. It was well known that he heard confessions from people who travelled from all over the world to see him, with the lines lasting often for 16-18 hours each day. By 1855 the number of pilgrims who came to see him reached 20,000 a year. He, too, was a Franciscan.
A story: By 1790, the French Revolution forced many loyal priests to hide from the government in order to carry out the sacraments in their parish. In order to attend Mass, even though it was illegal, the Vianneys travelled to distant farms where they could pray in secret. Since the priests risked their lives day by day, Vianney began to look upon priests as heroes. His First Communion lessons were publicly carried out in a public home by three priests. He made his first communion at the age of 13. During the Mass, the windows were covered so that the light of the candles could not be seen from the outside. (source)
A lesson learned: A man with vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible. John Vianney was a man with vision: He wanted to become a priest. But he had to overcome his meager formal schooling, which inadequately prepared him for seminary studies. His failure to comprehend Latin lectures forced him to discontinue. But his vision of being a priest urged him to seek private tutoring. After a lengthy battle with the books, John was ordained.
Personal story: I own two books that contain sermons by Vianney. They pull no punches and are among the most challenging pages I’ve ever read. I can see why modern men and women would avoid reading Vianney. I can also see why so many do.
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Who she was: As a teenager she cared only about boys and clothing and flirting and rebelling. When she was 16 her father decided she was out of control and sent her to a convent. At first she hated it but eventually she started to enjoy it – partly because of her growing love for God and partly because the convent wasn’t as strict as her father. She eventually chose religious life over married life and once installed at the Carmelite convent she began to learn and practice mental prayer. She is the founder of the Discalced Carmelites and in 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church for her writing and teaching on prayer, one of four women to be honored in this way.
A story: Her last words were “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.”
A lesson learned: The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer. As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man’s world of her time. She was “her own woman,” entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer. A holy woman, a womanly woman. (source)
Personal story: I am in awe of Teresa having read my way through half of her classic book The Interior Castle. She is a model of contemplative prayer. After her death a bookmark was found in which she had written:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.
It is one of my favorite prayers and a bookmark in my copy of The Liturgy of the Hours.
Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)
Who he was: Ignatius was born in the family castle in Guipúzcoa, Spain, the youngest of 13 children, and was called Iñigo. When he was old enough he became a page, and then a soldier of Spain to fight against the French. During the Battle of Pamplona a cannon ball and series of bad operations ended his military career in 1521. When recovering, Ignatius read a commentary on the life of Jesus Christ called De Vita Christi by Ludolph of Saxony and was to abandon his previous military life and devote himself to labor for God, following the example of spiritual leaders such as Francis of Assisi. He wrote on of the most influential books on the spiritual life ever written, the famous Spiritual Exercises. He founded The Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. In September 1523, Loyola reached the Holy Land to settle there, but was sent back to Europe by the Franciscans. (source)
A story: Ignatius was dominated all his life by a desire to imitate Christ. His Spiritual Exercises, written over a number of years, are a series of reflections, examinations of conscience, and prayers, grouped according to a traditional set of four steps leading to mystical union with God. The spirituality identified with St. Ignatius is characterized by emphasis on human initiative. His little book is a classic of Christian mysticism and is much used by devout Catholics.
A lesson: Ignatius was a true mystic. He centered his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity—the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, ad majorem Dei gloriam—“for the greater glory of God.” It is probably true that the picture of Ignatius that most people have is that of a soldier: stern, iron-willed, practical, showing little emotion – not a very attractive or warm personality. Yet if this picture is exact, it is hard to see how he could have had such a strong influence on those who knew him. Luis Goncalves de Camara, one of his closest associates, wrote, “He (Ignatius) was always rather inclined toward love; moreover, he seemed all love, and because of that he was universally loved by all.
Personal story: I attended a weekend retreat in the spring of 2010 led by Fr. Timothy Gallagher who has authored several books on Ignatian spirituality. This peaked my interest in contemplative prayer and spirituality and I began to go deeper into both Carmelite and Ignatian spirituality. Last fall I attended a four-day silent Ignatian retreat. It was one of the most powerful few days of my life.
Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (1891-1942)
Who she was: Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Poland, the youngest child of a large Jewish family. She was an outstanding student and excelled in philosophy with a particular interest in phenomenology. She fell away from her Jewish faith and became an atheist as a teenager. Eventually she became interested in the Catholic faith and was baptized a Catholic in 1922. In 1933 Edith entered the Carmelite convent in Cologne, Germany. However, the Nazis knew she had Jewish roots and as she wasn’t safe she was moved to the Carmelite convent in Echt, Holland. When the Nazis conquered Holland they arrested Edith and her sister Rosa and immediately sent them to Auschwitz by train, where she died in the gas chambers in 1942.
A story: On August 7th, 1942, the transport in which Sister Benedicta and her sister Rosa were traveling to her death at Auschwitz, stopped at the train station of Schifferstadt, not far from the town of Speyer where Stein had lived and taught for so many years at a Dominican school. Apparently the prisoners were allowed some access to the outside air as the train waited on a side rail. Stein identified herself to the station master, Valentine Fouquet; and she sent greetings to the Schwind family, who resided nearby, and to the sisters of St. Magdalena’s convent. She then added the comment, “We are heading east.” Later that same day, having been transferred to a cattle train, she reportedly stopped briefly in her old hometown of Breslau, and was reportedly sighted by the postal worker, Johannes Weiners, who was working in the railroad depot in Breslau (now in Poland). Weiners noticed the nun appearing at the entrance of the railway car as the door was slid open by a guard. After their initial conversation, Sister Benedicta looked around to see where she was; then she said: “This is my beloved hometown. I will never see it again.” She added: “We are riding to our death.” Johannes Weiners asked her: “Do your companion prisoners believe that also?” She answered: “It’s better that they do not know it.”
A lesson: The account continues with a description of the postal workers arguing among themselves whether or not they should do anything for those in the railway car. When some of them asked her if they could bring them any food or drink, she answered: “No, thank you, we accept nothing.” These gentle words of refusal, of gratitude, and of detachment are the final words recorded from her. If Sister Benedicta spoke these words as a way to protect the railroad workers from retribution, then the act of charity through self-denial, would have freed the postal workers from their difficult situation. Other accounts of people who observed Sister Benedicta during the transport to her death record that she gave special attention to the needs of the children and of their mothers during this traumatic time. (source, page 21)
Personal story: I don’t really have one with regards to Stein. But I’m fascinated by this brilliant woman who was born a devout Jew, became an atheist, a philosopher of high regard, and eventually a Catholic nun.
Thomas More (1478-1535)
Who he was: More studied law at Oxford before embarking on a legal career which took him to Parliament. Known for his wit and as a reformer, this learned man listed bishops and scholars among his friends, and in 1516 wrote his famous book Utopia. He was appointed by King Henry VIII to a succession of high posts and missions before being named Lord Chancellor in 1529. He resigned in 1532 when Henry persisted in pressuring More to approve of Henry’s desire to divorce Queen Katherine of Aragon and marry his lover. In 1534 More refused to render allegiance to the King as the Head of the Church of England and was confined to the Tower of London as a prisoner. Fifteen months later he was convicted of treason. On the scaffold moments before he was to be beheaded More told the crowd that he was dying as “the King’s good servant—but God’s first.” (source)
A story: When the executioner offered to blindfold him, More said that he would do this himself. But after he had stretched his head over the low block—it was merely a log of wood—he made a signal to the man to wait a moment. Then he made his last joke: His beard was lying on the block and he would like to remove it. At least that had committed no treason. The heavy axe went slowly up, hung a moment in the air and fell.
A lesson learned: Four hundred years later, in 1935, Thomas More was canonized a saint of God. Few saints are more relevant to our time. In fact, in 2000, Pope John Paul II named him patron of political leaders. The supreme diplomat and counselor, he did not compromise his own moral values in order to please the king, knowing that true allegiance to authority is not blind acceptance of everything that authority wants. King Henry himself realized this and tried desperately to win his chancellor to his side because he knew More was a man whose approval counted, a man whose personal integrity no one questioned. But when Thomas resigned as chancellor, unable to approve the two matters that meant most to Henry, the king had to get rid of Thomas More.
Personal story: Utopia and The Sadness of Christ (a meditation on the Christ’s passion written while he was imprisoned in the Tower) are on my shelves and two of my favorite books. In an age where religious freedom is being removed from the public square, More is increasingly a role model for our era.
My next eight? I’m going with Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, Katherine Drexel, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, Edmond Campion and the apostles John and Peter.
It is elusive
Can’t seem to write short blog posts.
Hang on, I just did!
Ok, so haiku isn’t my medium either. I’ll continue to strive for the elusive 700-to-800-words-and-under blog post. In the meantime enjoy this sweet little starter to your morning.
H/T: my friend John
If you enjoy the creative process, or are looking to be inspired, I may have just the vehicle for you. All too often we write about bad media and bemoan what we see as a lack of quality and beauty in the arts. Here’s something to quench your dry, parched throats.
About a year and a half ago I heard and saw the video for White Owl for the first time. It was written and sung by an artist I had never heard of named Josh Garrels. I instantly fell in love with it, and as of today this link to the video shows it has been viewed 119,835 times. I’m pretty sure I’m responsible for over 100 or so of those views. The song led off the new album from Garrels named “Love & War and the Sea In Between.” I then learned that Josh was offering free downloads of the album on iTunes. I snagged a copy of it and put it on my iTouch where I have listened…and listened…and listened. And then a few months ago on his Facebook page I noticed Josh mentioning a video project that would be released in January 2013: “The Sea In Between.” It was released January 29, and two days ago my copy of the project arrived. I’ve spent the last two nights watching and listening and decided I had to share this with you. In light of the preparations for the series on lectio divina I’ve spent much time in quiet contemplation. In my weekly men’s prayer group we’ve been covering the beauty of creation. Shutting off the media and seeking things that are above. Going deep. The beauty of the arts. Harmony.
Let me just say right now that never has $25 (plus whatever shipping and handling was) of my money been so well spent. When I opened the shipping box and removed the protective wrapping I found inside a simple cigar box. They manufactured a limited amount of this version of the set and future editions are now pressed into a simple DVD case with a photo booklet, which is now available for $20.
Inside the box I found the following:
- 2 DVDs with bonus content
- Full-color Concert Poster with a Map of Mayne Island on the reverse side
- 12 Art-quality photo postcards
- Download ticket to enable you to download a digital version of “The Sea In Between” as well as the Audio Soundtrack
The first DVD is the documentary performance film The Sea In Between and, as the Village Voice called it “an 80-minute testament to the joys of the creative process.” The genesis of the project is revealed in this Billboard review:
If a musician you admired posted his number on his website, would you call him?
This was how one fan, Blayne Johnson, came to contact indie singer Josh Garrels and decided he wanted to take part in his music. What began as an artist retreat at Mayne Island in Vancouver, BC, soon snowballed into “The Sea In Between,” a feature-length documentary from Mason Jar Music giving an inside look into Garrels’ life and music alongside the stunning backdrop of the island.
“I hope with this people see the fun and energy that is in the music,” Garrels says in the film’s trailer. “When someone can present it in a way that is inviting people into their joy that is when the most beautiful things are formed.”
Mission accomplished Josh. On this DVD we meet Josh, his wife Michelle, and his two young children Heron and Shepherd as they are packing to leave for Mayne Island, British Columbia. We also meet the production team at Mason Jar Music from Brooklyn, New York, as they discuss and plan the project. We then meet the five young Julliard-trained musicians who are asked to make this journey. These are very talented individuals who can flat out play and innovate (a xylophone made out of old wrenches…are you kidding me?) Once on Mayne Island we’ll get to know Mr. Johnson and his family, as well as a few of the characters on the island. My favorite was Punch, a 90-year old farmer whom they approach for permission to use his land for recording one of the songs. And of course we meet Mayne Island, a picturesque and beautiful setting for the project. The production team is to be commended for the various sites they chose for each song as they are perfect. Locations include the inside of an Anglican church, a grove, the top of Mount Parke, Bennett Bay, Mount Parke Forest (for a very cool number filmed under lights powered by a generator after dark), a vineyard, and so on.
I love all the songs and can’t pick one over the other, though I found myself replaying “Sailor’s Waltz” many times. “Bread and Wine” is another: as one of the musicians says while talking about the song afterwards, the lyrics just hit you straight in the heart.
I was wrong, everybody needs someone, to hold on
Take my hand, I’ve been a lonesome man, took a while to understand
There’s some things we can’t live without,
A man’s so prone to doubt,
Faithful are the wounds from friends.
So give it just a little time,
Share some bread and wine
Weave your heart into mine,
Among my favorites is this sweet, intimate performance of “Little Blue” in Alder Grove in which Josh and his wife perform a song written about the arrival of their daughter Heron. During Michelle’s pregnancy while they lived in Indiana they kept noticing a blue heron that seemed to appear during key moments of the pregnancy.
Love I never knew
Filled my heart
When I held you
My lover calls
In fall and spring
Keep your eyes on heron’s wings
She’s coming soon
Let’s dance and sing
For the joy that her life brings
The second DVD contains a “visual LP”, that is, the individual song performances themselves without the interviews and scenes of rehearsals. It includes one or two songs that are not on the first DVD and I like it. I plan on watching it with my 9-year old this weekend as he and I are both learning how to play the guitar together and I know he’ll enjoy it. DVD #2 also includes solo performances by all five of the guest musicians and allows them to really showcase their talent (the drummer’s use of whatever old coffee cans and such he finds in a barn is very cool). Near the end of the film on the first DVD several of the musicians talked about how the week-long experience had changed them and revealed to them a new freedom in creativity that they hadn’t known before. A memorable scene occurs at the very end of the film and is described in this review on the American Songwriter website:
There’s a scene at the very end of “The Sea In Between” where the members of Mason Jar Music shuffle through an airport lobby with their instruments in tow. They pass by an upright piano. The guys stop, and one of them sits down at the bench to play a few chords. The drummer puts his snare onto the floor and joins in. The violinist starts playing, too. Before long, there’s a crowd of people watching the show, everyone forgetting about their missed connections for one perfect moment.
To you, my sweetest friend
I betrayed you, I walked away again
Now all that’s left, is what might have been
Please forgive me, before we reach the end
In an excellent review of the film By Way of Beauty wrote:
Some might be surprised to learn that Garrels is a passionate Christian – which says a lot about the lackluster “Christian music” circuit (or maybe even about certain trends in modern Christianity). Unlike most “Christian artists,” he’s unafraid to go to ambiguous or even dark places in his lyrics, places that speak to the universality of pain, joy, and desire. The songs are clearly not vehicles to proselytize, but honest expressions of, and invitations to, the very human experiences at play in a life oriented by faith.
This is what I appreciate about artists such as Josh Garrels, musician Rich Mullins and author Flannery O’Connor: Christians who are not afraid to go deep into the dark recesses of the human condition to find grace. No sugar-coating; life in all its manifestations.
Josh Garrels has written and recorded several albums, available for download here. While his last album was named the #1 Christian album for 2012, I almost hesitate to mention it because that alone will scare some people away. It should not. Blayne Johnson in the film says that in inviting Josh to the island to stay with his family for a week he didn’t do it because they shared views about God, because they do not. He said he invited him because he and his family loved the honesty, joy and integrity they all felt in Josh’s music, something he described as “humanity at its best.” And it is definitely there. While Josh’s voice and his musical style is not for everyone, it is nothing if not steeped in beauty, honesty and integrity.
Those qualities shine forth brilliantly in this wonderful little film and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even if you do not appreciate the musical style, you will be inspired to join in the creative process in your own life or vocation. This is a film that makes you want to open your wallet after watching it and give Josh whatever money you happen to have inside. And to say, as you hand it to him, “Here. Take this. And do more of this. Make more music. Because I need it.”
Because the world needs it.
For two weeks I’ve worked late into the night, every night, on a presentation that I will deliver over the course of five Wednesday nights during Lent on Lectio Divina. Last night I finished my outline of forty-two pages and tonight I’ll begin to arrange them into a tighter framework, put them into Power Point slides as well as selecting a movie scene or two for illustrative purposes. It has been an exhausting but exciting process. For the past 3-4 nights I’ve been immersed in the subject of our fourth session: contemplation. It is a deep well from which to draw inspiration, but how to actually explain it? In the end I think I’ve found a way to do so, and last night I printed off the entire outline and will attack it with my red pen and highlighter tonight.
After shutting off my pc and the lights late last night, and while walking up our basement stairs, I paused at the halfway point and thought: why would I ever want to write anything ever again? Why would I sweat over words to type onto my screen and then transfer them into the blogosphere where they may or may not ever be read by one person, let alone dozens or more? Why not just squeeze all of the meditation, prayer and contemplation that I can out of my reading and settle my mind onto the higher things of this life by going deeper? Aiming high by going deep. I slowly walked up the rest of the stairs and into my bedroom.
I was still mulling over these questions when, before shutting off my bedside lamp, I read the following:
O Jesus, grant that like You I may live in continual union with God and at the same time give myself to my neighbor. May I lead a life of continual recollection, prayer, and contemplation, yet a life wholly devoted to the service of others.
It is the final prayer during the colloquy for meditation #64: Jesus and Mankind on page 180 of Divine Intimacy. God wasted no time in reminding me of what I’d spent the last two nights writing about: applying what we learn during our reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation into action, whether in our own lives or in the lives of others.
I’ve read a lot of commentary this week on the advertising and half-time show during the Super Bowl. Commentary that echoes much of my thought process as I watched the uniquely American spectacle unfold with my two sons. I can’t comment on Beyoncé’s halftime show because I had other things to do during halftime. I did think the ads themselves provided an interesting contrast in the America we were versus where we are now. Ben Shapiro thinks along the same lines:
The commercials, too, contrasted what used to be American with what is now American. The Chrysler Group’s Dodge Ram “Farmer” ad, which showed stills of American farmers over a voiceover from famed broadcaster Paul Harvey, “So God Made a Farmer,” received high marks from the crowd. It was a moving reconsideration of values now thought by many to be passé:
It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight…and not cut corners. Somebody to seed and weed, feed and breed…and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk. Somebody to replenish the self feeder and then finish a hard days work with a five mile drive to church. Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who’d laugh and then sigh…and then respond with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life “doing what dad does.” So, God made a farmer!
He then notes one ad that I recall grumbling about at the time:
Contrast that ad with one from Coca Cola, featuring a series of security camera shots, and titled, “Give a Little Bit”:
Security cameras around the world … also capture … people stealing kisses, music addicts, honest pickpockets, and potato chip dealers … attacks of friendship, unexpected firemen, and peaceful warriors. Let’s look at the world a little differently.
When the caption reads, “Peaceful warriors,” we see a video of some moron tagging the word “Peace” on the side of a building. This is what it takes to create peace across the world? A powerful military presence irrelevant in comparison to graffiti? Spraying beyond the call of valor?
When I saw the ad refer to the vandal as a peaceful warrior I turned to my sons and said “No, he’s not. In the eyes of the property owner and the law he is a criminal.”
I’ve heard it said that during Super Bowl parties filled with partying thirty-somethings the room suddenly fell silent during the ad featuring Paul Harvey’s voice. I submit it’s because despite all our jaded cynicism people are still looking to set their minds on the things above.
The beauty of creation.
The joy of wonder.
The inspiration from things on a higher plane.
How we “lost” those things is a subject much larger than the confines of this simple blog or your humble writer. But in my next post I’ll provide a study in contrasts that I believe help to show how we got where we are today. I’ll do so because I have meditated and contemplated these things. And because I’m compelled into action to share them with you.
“The very fury with which people go on seeking pleasure is a proof that they have not found it.” — G.K. Chesterton
I posted this quote late last week on Facebook. Someone emailed me to ask what I meant by it. This post is my answer.
If I were asked to summarize my recent Ignatian retreat…
If I were asked to point to something that stated much of what I feel…
…what I know…what I think about…
…what I want to convey in a lot of my writing…
If I only had a modicum of talent I would have produced this video.
In seventeen minutes this video, created by someone unknown to me and for reasons also unknown, does all of that in a beautiful manner. With terrific narration, imagery, music and quotes from some of the giants such as Henry David Thoreau, Albert Schweitzer, Fulton Sheen, St. Gregory the Great, St. Josemaria Escriva, Peter Kreeft, Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, St. Ignatius, Pope Benedict XVI, St. Augustine, Jesus Christ, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, John Eldredge, St. Catherine of Sienna and George MacDonald.
This is what I wish to say. What I wish I were able to say.
A video that dares to ask you, and me, all the big questions.
Are you willing to ask them?
Will you dare to watch? Will you make the time to watch all seventeen minutes?
The Tree of Life asked these questions. People complained it was too long. Too deep.
My answer: “Yes.”
Despite our shallowness and shorter attention spans a lot of us are still asking. The answer is right there in front of us.
If you make the time to ask the questions…
Make the time to listen for the answers.
If I had sense this actually would be my last post. A great finale for the blog.
What else is there to say?
Have you ever thought?
Have you ever really thought?
After all the movement…
After all the noise…
After all the pleasures and amusements…
That there’s still something missing from your life?
That your heart goes on craving something more.
And that oftentimes these passing moments of pleasure
Just left you more empty than ever?
This is a call to live.
This is a call to life.
The world offers you domination,
but you were made for freedom.
The world offers you noise,
but it can’t offer you peace.
The world offers you comfort,
but you were not made for comfort.
You were made for greatness.
I thought I had taken two weeks off from the Friday Five, but it’s been three. The retreat, both the preparations for and the aftermath of, kept me a little preoccupied. My apologies for the delay. And thanks to all of you who helped make October 2nd the “busiest” day ever at this blog. I try not to pay attention to the stats, etc., but the bar chart peaked on that day so I took a peek and noticed it. A big heartfelt thanks to you all. And now, as Casey Kasem used to say, “on with the countdown.”
— 1 —
Quote of the Week: “We can’t bind ourselves to joy—we have to kiss it as it flies.” ~ William Blake
— 2 —
What are your limitations? Is there anything holding you back?
H/T: Thoughts on Theater
— 3 —
Heather King is fast becoming a favorite writer/author/blogger of mine. I first heard of her a little over a year ago when I learned of her book Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux. I read the excerpt below over at the CERC. I love her description of Jesus.
It’s easy to scoff at miracles, but another thing I liked about Christ was that he never performed magic-trick miracles; he didn’t pull rabbits out of a hat, or produce gold ingots.
He performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes; he made the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear. He performed miracles to bring people alive; he operated on a higher level of reality in order to bring love into the world.
He didn’t go off and sit in a cave and grant folks an audience one by one, like some wise old shaman, either; he mingled. He ate and drank with people; he touched them, human flesh to human flesh: demoniacs, lepers. And when he did heal, he never held the people up as sideshow freaks or floor models to show how great he was…
The small, hidden, anonymous God I found in the Gospels appealed to me deeply. It was the God I’d found in sobriety, who worked through other people, who had a sense of humor, who held me accountable and forgave me at the same time. Who didn’t force or judge, just invited me to do a little better, then put the challenges in my path to teach me how.
Christ subverted all worldly systems — political, familial, financial: not for the sake of being subversive, but because acting with utter integrity is automatically subversive. He was left of the furthest left and right of the furthest right, both radically liberal and radically conservative. In one breath he could say, “Honor your father and your mother” (Mk 7:10) and in another, “let the dead bury their own dead” (Lk 9:60).
This last paragraph really speaks to me. One of the things that can be most maddening to me is how those with a political agenda or a cause to promote will attempt to co-opt Christ for their own purposes, cherry-picking a verse here or there to illustrate why their cause is just while they ignore the rest. He doesn’t love more if you’re a Republican, Democrat, or whatever. He wasn’t a liberal nor was he a conservative. He was both. He is all. They killed him for that. So why should those of us who attempt to walk on his path expect anything less than ridicule or persecution?
During the discussion portion of the men’s prayer group I meet with each Wednesday morning this subject came up. One of the men is a psychologist and counselor and he mentioned a study he read where the author argued that the Ten Commandments were unnecessary to live a moral and ethical life. That they were irrelevant in our capitalist society and that capitalism was our true religion because the commandments were in opposition to them. While I said that I don’t agree with this man’s view, I did agree that if you are an individual who holds to the principles of those ten commandments and to live your life based upon those basic tenets you, my friend, are counter-cultural. To live that life is to go against the grain. You will be ridiculed. Don’t believe me? Watch network television for a week if you can stand it.
Funny ol’ world.
— 4 —
For 13 weeks in the Fall semester of 2012 (A-M) and 13 weeks in the Spring semester of 2013 (N-Z), I will be exploring the legacy of C. S. Lewis. Professor, apologist, novelist, literary critic, fantasy writer, philosopher, theologian, and ethicist, Lewis has exerted a profound influence on the way millions of people read literature, make moral choices, think about God, and live out the Christian faith. By means of a genial blend of reason and imagination, logic and fantasy, profound academic insight and good old common sense, Lewis has challenged the modern world to re-examine the claims of Christ, the Bible, and the Church, re-experience the goodness, truth, and beauty of literature, and re-expand its vision of God, man, and the universe. In each 600-word blog I will enlist Lewis’s aid as I study, both theoretically and practically, a topic of perennial interest to humanity and of particular interest to the early 21st century.
So far he’s covered Aslan, Beauty and Courage. It is definitely worth a look.
— 5 —
During my series of posts on my recent retreat, a friend of mine told me he loved one photo in particular “if I removed my hairy knee” so that the full view might be enjoyed.
I concede the point. Here you go John.
“When the root is deep there is no reason to fear the wind.”
~ framed quote hanging in a corner study at Broom Tree
After Morning Prayer we held our second session of the exercises. In reviewing my journal I can see the thread that brings them all together, from Deacon Andrew’s short talk to the assigned readings and my meditations that came about as a result. But I am also faced with the knowledge that it would take a writer more skilled than I to make it succinct and on point for the purposes of a blog post. Or, just as likely, it isn’t meant for the confines of such brevity. After all we are talking about the beauty of ALL creation. From considering the “levels of being” such as rocks and other existing objects, to other living creatures, and finally to humans possessing rationality and free choice of the will. The aim this morning (Friday, Sept. 21) was to concentrate on higher things and avoid the distractions of lower things. We were to reflect on the goodness of God, and to seek the grace of knowing the personal love of God for us.
How would I even begin to write about finding and recognizing beauty in all things and in all levels of creation? I suppose I’d start with what we learned as The First Principle. Read it now, and I’ll come back to it in the end.
First Principle and Foundation
Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.
Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.
Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.
Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.
From The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, edited by Louis J. Puhl, S.J. Chicago: Loyola University Press. 1951.
It was a cool, clear morning and pretty windy. I walked south past the entrance to St. Isadore’s and looked down the hill to the southeast. There was a worn path leading towards a little wooded area with a bench in the shade. I decided it was the perfect place to pray and meditate on such lofty things for the next hour or so.
I turned first to where it all begins: Genesis 1:1-25. The story of Creation – the first six days. Whether you are among those who take the timeframe literally or those who do not, the message here is the same: in short, God created it all. And it was, and I believe is still, good. God did all of this, from the rocks on the path that begins the trek through the Stations of the Cross across the grounds at Broom Tree, to the tall, dried prairie grasses blowing in the wind. The wind that He also created. He created the warm sun overhead me now, and these bluest of skies. Moving to a different level He created the weed or flower I find on the path to this bench, and the cattle I can hear mooing non-stop just over the hills to the northeast. And finally, to the final level of creation: me. The holder of this pen who sits on a bench in the shade provided by His trees sheltering me from His sun and wind while writing in a journal. And of course you, dear reader.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
For I rejoice in the Lord.”
~ Psalm 104:1, 33-34
Here I’ll return to that First Principle of St. Ignatius. In the first line he states that man “is created to praise, reverence, and serve God…to save his soul.” In the old Baltimore Catechism, the de facto standard Catholic school text in the U.S. from 1885 to the late 1960s, we find in Lesson One the following:
1. Q. Who made the world?
A. God made the world.
2. Q. Who is God?
A. God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things.
3. Q. What is man?
A. Man is a creature composed of body and soul, and made to the image and likeness of God.
6. Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.
9. Q. What must we do to save our souls?
A. To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.
And what is faith, besides the “belief in things not seen”?
Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man to superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life. ~ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 26
Now this is why I said that to be written well this would require a better writer than I. Because out on that bench while straining against the wind to hold down the pages so I could read and write I got it. I got what St. Ignatius was getting at. Life really is that simple, and we do far too often allow ourselves to be distracted by the things that truly do not matter. The second paragraph of The First Principle is a mini-principle of its own: a principle of simplification. It is a call for us to make use of and enjoy God’s creation, but not get so distracted in the things that don’t matter that we neglect or ignore the things that do. Yeah, that’d be me. Guilty as charged. Since returning from my retreat I’ve made a conscious effort to not become like so many of those I see walking downtown each day, noses buried in a 4 inch screen. We miss so much, no wonder we become so jaded. No wonder we no longer praise.
Yeah, no wonder. And that’s the problem. We’ve simply forgotten. Fortunately He hasn’t forgotten us.
Psalm 19 begins: “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” They are still today and have never stopped. Read all of Psalm 19 if you haven’t in a while. Read how God created all of this beauty for us. He gave us laws, testimony, precepts and commandments (And only ten! Or the two “great commandments of the New Testament, if you prefer). He gives us it all.
Why do we make it so damned hard?
Why do I?
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. ~ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27
The wind calmed for a few minutes as I closed my journal and my bible to sit and gaze up at the white building that is St. Isadore’s contrasted against the deep blue sky. I didn’t want to leave this place, and attempted to soak in as much of what I’d found there before walking back up the hill to Mass.
On my way back to the retreat center where we were to have Mass and then lunch, I saw Cocoa walking across an open field. I whistled, but she would only turn to look at me before continuing on her way. I was to learn that she did not have time for such trivial pursuits as photos. She may have been teaching me a lesson.
In the nights prior to my retreat I had become a night owl, staying up too late reading or being way too absorbed in current events. I have a problem, of sorts, in that I have always been a news junkie. True, as a conservative I tend towards more right-leaning news sites, but I try to keep a bit of balance. Mostly I read Catholic news portals or blogs. Anyhow, the night before my road trip I was up much too late. My wife and I on Wednesday night had bought what we thought would be a nice gift for our son Jonah who would be turning nine on Friday, but this inexpensive MP3 player wasn’t just inexpensive. It was cheap. As in it sucked. So I found myself scouring the web to research ideas I had on getting our family’s first tablet. There was no way I was buying an iPad for him and I didn’t want other tablets that allowed unfettered access to the internet and all the incredibly wonderful stuff that flourished unfettered out there. I finally found what appeared to be a solid option containing parental controls and that wouldn’t break the bank. After reading tons of reviews and having a pow-wow with my wife had decided to purchase the Nabi 2.
And this is how I found myself driving to a Wal-Mart on the north side of town after midnight hoping that their website hadn’t lied to me and that they had one in stock. They did, and by 1am I was back home setting it up and making sure it would function “out of the box” for Jonah and my wife when I was absent on Friday.
And so it was that less than 24 hours later I was sitting wide awake on the couch in a room over two hundred miles from home with my bible and my journal on my lap. Having read, re-read and prayed for over an hour I seemed stuck. Restless. Wait…the purpose of this first lesson was to find REST, right? So I decided to take a step out into the cool evening and clear my head.
Now while on the couch I had discovered some themes that were personal to me at this time in my life. For instance, in Isaiah I kept coming back to Chapter 55, verses 2-7 that read:
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
While not off in the weeds entirely, I had recently sensed an increasingly sense of imbalance. It began to increase with my decision 6-8 weeks ago to create a study program to introduce and teach the Liturgy of the Hours to your average Catholic. Below I’ve boldfaced the passages that seemed to stand out to me.
From Psalm 63:
O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory. Because thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise thee. So I will bless thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on thy name.
So after chewing on this for awhile I decided that I needed to heed the words in the final verses I was looking at in 1 Kings 19:11-12:
And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
And so I decided to “climb the mount” and spend some time in the white country parish that resides on the grounds at Broom Tree. Located about two football fields away it would be a straight shot due south from the door in the west wing where my room was and across the parking lot to the church steps. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a mount but a slight incline from the north. When you approach it from the south it really is up a hill. The parking lot is brightly lit at night as are the grounds surrounding the main retreat center. And as you can see from this photo I took, St. Isadore’s is illuminated at night as well.
I got about halfway across the parking lot when I heard something behind me. I turned to see movement between two of the parked cars. I froze to watch as the wolf-shape moved into the light and I recognized it as the other dog I’d seen on the grounds. Seeing her eyes glow when reflecting the light caused the phrase “hound of hell” to pass quickly through my mind, but I called out softly “Come here, Cocoa” and she slowly walked towards me. She allowed me to pet her once and walked by me to the church. I think she’s escorted more than one soul there before. After pausing outside to take a photo of the church at night I walked up the steps and into the dark church.
After taking a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness I was able to see the lit, red candle flickering at the front of the church. Catholics worldwide know this means that Christ, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, is present. This soft, flickering flame is a source of great comfort when spending countless hours at night (or in the day) praying in church. My eyes continued to adjust as the bright lights inside were able to enter the church sanctuary somewhat through a few front windows. The wooden floor creaked as, after finding the holy water font and making the sign of the cross across myself, I made my way to the front pew on the right side. Genuflecting and again crossing myself I entered the pew and knelt. After several minutes of prayer and settling my mind I sat down.
Other than the candle, all I could make out in the darkness were the shadowy forms that I knew to be the altar, the ambo (or podium), and the tabernacle itself. What I could see was the crucifix mounted on the back wall above the tabernacle. Specifically the corpus, or the body of Christ, was illuminated and easy to see. Whether by design or by accident, the spotlights outside the church entered through two upper windows above the balcony at the front of the church and joined to form a beam of light that shone on the body of Christ only. I thought that was pretty cool.
…you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness. ~ 2 Samuel 22:29
And so finally after a few more minutes of settling in, I was able to ask Jesus to help me answer the question that had been the cause of my walk to sit in this spot. It is the verse that follows the passage I quoted above from 1 Kings. I had climbed the mount. I was seated before the Lord. I knew that I was not able to hear his voice clearly due to the din and the normal noise of life. Current events (or “wind”, “earthquakes” or “fire” was not where the Lord’s voice was easily heard. It is a still small voice. And because the question had been stuck in my craw ever since I read it I was now here.
In 1 Kings 19:13 Elijah finally hears that voice. He goes out. And the voice asks him a question. It says to him “What are you doing here Elijah?”
A question God? I strain to finally get a clear frequency so I can hear you and receive your wisdom and your answers and get through this thing called life and you ask me a freaking question?? If Elijah didn’t say it I bet he was thinking it. Ok, Lord…ok. (Deep breaths)
What are you doing here, Jeff?
What am I doing here? I considered what I had read in my room:
- “Eat what is good” (Holy Communion / The Body of Christ)
- “Hear, that your soul shall live” (Holy Scriptures / The Word of God)
- “Return…for he will abundantly pardon” (Contrition/Confession/Mercy)
God is calling me back to Him through the Sacraments that have always been before me. But I lose sight of them when life gets “busy” and I get lazy. Unappreciative. Here, in a small wooden church out in the middle of nowhere out on the prairies I expressed my desire to return to His mercy, and He reminded me that He had already provided what I needed. Secure in that knowledge I would leave my pew after an hour and be escorted back to the retreat center by Cocoa. I had found her waiting for me curled up against the front door at the top of the steps.
But first, before that walk back to my room, I heard a still, small voice ask me:
“What are you doing here, Jeff?”
“O God, you are my God…”
©2012 Jeff A Walker
To be angry with God means to realize at the deepest level, a place that is both physical and emotional at the same time, that the world is broken and not as it should be. Anger at God is protest against suffering. That suffering can be caused by social inequity and structural injustice, but it is also caused by personal losses, physical pain, and the reality of death, our own and that of others—this cruelty built into the human condition. To be angry at God, not in theory or idea, but in the body—the anger that rises up from the solar plexus and out through the arms and legs and mouth—is to pray, for it is to lay bare, in the most intimate way, the wounds of life felt deep in the body itself, to expose them as though open to the sun, to expose the deepest part of the self to God, that unknowable Other who lurks in wheat fields on the sun-baked high plains of Spain.
– Kerry Egan, from Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal of the Camino de Santiago
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for: The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.
– Catechism of the Catholic Church #27
One little word in The Lord’s Prayer, plus a few paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,became catalysts for my deeper conversion. By God’s grace, I have found release and have better-learned to “let go.”
And I’m talking about forgiveness in areas of life-long hurt, as well as the petty annoying trespasses that come our way.
Observe the little word in the line of the Lord’s Prayer that gets to the heart of it all: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
This petition is astonishing. If it consisted only of the first phrase, “And forgive us our trespasses,” it might have been included, implicitly, in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, since Christ’s sacrifice is “that sins may be forgiven.” But, according to the second phrase, our petition will not be heard unless we have first met a strict requirement. Our petition looks to the future, but our response must come first, for the two parts are joined by the single word “as.”
– Catechism of the Catholic Church #2838
That little word is AS-tonishing! No getting around it. It’s the stickler, the caveat, the tipping point, for the truth of this teaching. How many times have I asked God’s forgiveness for something, when I really had no clue that I was to extend it to others first? Often, I just rattled off the words of prayer, not paying attention to what they meant.
“Some impulses like the desire to love—and pray—are imbedded in the human heart by a higher being.”
– Lorraine V. Murray, from Confessions of an Ex-Feminist
You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
– St. Augustine, Confessions
“Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way.”
– Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope), No. 49
Who are your stars in this life; your lights of hope?